Can We Prove that God does not Exist?
In a comment to a recent note of this columnist, a reader questioned my skepticism
about metaphysical entities: "What rigorous academic studies do prove the non-existence
of God?" –asked this religious and respectful reader.
The scientific method requires the development of positive and measurable
evidence to support the formulation and modification of the proposed
hypotheses. It is physically impossible to do tests on any creature or thing that
are not real. We cannot prove that centaurs–half humans, half horses–ever
walked on the face of Earth. Neither the scientific method applies to the
verification of the existence of immaterial, intangible and immeasurable forms.
Nor can we perform experiments on incorporeal entities.
Regarding the reality or unreality of God, we, the unbeliever agnostics, always say
"I don’t know". Some of us venture to go beyond and reflect on the
possibility that God might exist depending on how we define the word. Interpretations
of the expression such as "that Infinite All of which man knows himself to
be a finite part" (Tolstoy), "the orderly Harmony of what exists”
(Spinoza), "the ceaseless Creativity of the universe" (Stuart
Kauffman), or "the pure Consciousness that dwells within everything" (Amritanandamayi
Devi) would move my neutrality toward an affirmation.
The sectarian deities, on the other hand, that reward their followers and
punish infidels, those who intervene in everything that is happening (except in
catastrophe prevention), those who incite violence against the unbelievers, and
those that proclaim commandments or reveal sacred books to their prophets ...
Such deities not only tip my scale toward denial but make my answer blunt: Such
gods do not exist.
My agnostic position extends to encompass the so-called cosmological
argument of Aristotle and Aquinas. According to these philosophers, the
assumption of an infinite chain of consecutive causes and effects is absurd and
therefore, trillions of years ago nothing existed and, at some point, a First
Cause, without a doer or chronological predecessor, must have created whatever
there was at the very beginning. Is it an infinite chain of events really
absurd? Again, I do not know.
The big bang theory, the accepted model for the origin of the universe,
argues that before the big bang there was nothing, not even space or time. As
such, for the liberal interpreters of the Torah, the big bang became a
confirmation that when God said "Let there be light" (Genesis 1.3),
occurred the unprecedented lighting that was the big bang. (In Genesis 1.1, the
Lord made heaven and earth)
However, there are now scenarios that open up new possibilities, yet
unproven, according to which there would exist some stuff before the first
light, and the big bang may have been more the 'big bounce' of a previous
universe that would have collapsed down to the small dot of infinite density wherefrom
the huge explosion ignited. As neither infinite densities nor previous
universes that shrank fit in my head, I feel compelled to plead agnostic again
and, furthermore, to extrapolate my "I do not know" to all the many other
unexplained things and events both current and not yet identified.
Atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris presents the law of gravity, the workings
of which scientists know quite well, as a good example of the incomprehensible.
Why do bodies attract each other? No idea. Our brain cannot assimilate this and
countless other phenomena, and certainly no single mind, not even the brain of
the brightest person, will be ever able to discern just the basics of every
science. "We do not really understand anything about our physical world at
the deepest level," says astronomer Sten Odenwald.
Sam Harris is one of the contemporary advocates of non-religious
spirituality, a trend that has room for agnostics, skeptics and atheists, on
one hand, and for the 'believers' in the God of Tolstoy, Spinoza, Kauffman or
Devi, on the other. If the Supreme Principle of any of these four thinkers is the
‘Real One’, God would be Infinity, Harmony, Creativity or Pure Consciousness,
and He would not demand faith or allegiance from us, earthlings, or the
inhabitants of other planets (if they existed). Such a God would never reward devotion
or punish heresy. And I am quite positive that His reality will never be
confirmed or rebutted in a research laboratory.
Atlanta, November 17, 2014